Celebrating art and culture at the National Indigenous Art Fair 2024

National Indigenous Art Fair

The National Indigenous Art Fair will return to Gadigal Land at the Overseas Passenger Terminal in The Rocks from 29-30 June 2024.


This is the fifth annual National Indigenous Art Fair, which celebrates Indigenous art, culture and food, with a vibrant program of performances, tastings and live music. The fair includes over 50 stallholders from the popular quarterly Blak Markets showcasing art, jewellery, gifts, homewares and Indigenous bush food and plants, as well as First Nations artists travelling from remote art centres in the far corners of Australia.

This is a rare and exciting opportunity for Sydneysiders and visitors to interact directly with artists working in these remote communities, and to buy their work in an ethical marketplace. All proceeds go back to the artists and their communities.

The event is presented by National Indigenous Art Fair founders, First Hand Solutions Aboriginal Corporation, directed by Peter Cooley in conjunction with Art Fair General Manager Sarah Martin. We spoke to Peter about the beginnings of the Fair and the importance of art centres in remote communities.

Opening image: Artist Faith Butler Tjukurla by Rosie Frecheville, 2022.


Peter Cooley, CEO of First Hand Solutions Aboriginal Corporation, organisers of the National Indigenous Art Fair. Image: Kim Carter.


How it all began


Peter grew up in the Aboriginal mission at La Perouse, watching skilled craftsmen and women create boomerangs, nulla nullas, clapsticks and shellwork, and sell them to visiting tourists. La Perouse was a popular spot for weekend travellers, who would come specifically to talk to local Aboriginal people and buy artwork from the artists.

While this brought income and opportunities to Aboriginal people in the area, over the years, this marketplace slowly disappeared. But Peter and Sarah were determined to see it brought back. With their organisation First Hand Solutions, they looked into craft and tourism projects, researching other Aboriginal businesses around the country. They took everything they learned to create the Blak Markets, which are now a quarterly event at Bare Island in La Perouse.

“You could call it an incubator hub,” says Peter. “We’re supporting local jobs, and the opportunity for people to come along and immerse themselves with local culture and be able to have genuine discussions with Aboriginal people. But most importantly, be able to buy authentic products, in many cases directly from the artists. I think that’s why it’s been so successful, and it’s lasted 10 years.”


Numbulwar Numburindi Arts. Image: supplied.


Based on the success of the Blak Markets, he wanted to look at how he could open the event up to support Aboriginal people across the country. At the time, there were very few places you could go to purchase authentic Aboriginal art. He says, “basically, we created the National Indigenous Art Fair to fill that hole. Sydney didn’t have an Indigenous market at the time, so the opportunity was there. We invited remote artists from around Australia and ran the Blak Markets alongside it at Barangaroo Reserve. That was back in 2017.”

It was a hit. The National Indigenous Art Fair has seen 10,000+ visitors each year, with an incredible 22,000 visitors at the 2023 event.

As Peter says, “We made it a cultural festival, where people could come along and immerse themselves in culture, but also browse the art fair and pick up some affordable pieces of artwork. And the beauty of the Art Fair is that it’s affordable. You can buy a $100 piece or you can buy a $5,000 piece. There’s something for everyone.”


Warlukurlanga Artists, Joy Nakamarra and Valerie Napanangka Marshall. Image: supplied.

Remote but not out of touch


Many of the artists attending are from some of the most remote communities in Australia, and will travel for two or even three days to reach Sydney. This includes Papunya Tjupi Arts, from the birthplace of the Western Desert painting movement; Warlukurlangu Artists, one of the longest running and most successful Aboriginal-owned art centres in Central Australia; and Anindilyakwa Arts, from Groote Eylandt and Bickerton Islands – and many more.

The art centres are important hubs in these communities: places to share culture, knowledge and language, as well as provide employment opportunities. For many, the only non-governmental source of income is through art sales, which makes the Fair an even more important place to showcase their work to a bigger audience and market.

“We want people to come along and have fun and learn about culture and really be a part of it. But we also want visitors who are going to put money into those businesses as a community,” Peter says.

Not only does the Art Fair itself generate important sales, but it also opens opportunities for commissions afterwards as well, which has an ongoing impact for communities.

Peter also runs a two-day professional development program with the artists who attend the Fair, connecting them with important institutions like the Art Gallery of NSW and corporate buyers.


Learn to make a possum armband with Indigenous artist and storyteller Amanda Reynolds. Image: supplied.


A diverse program


Everyone is welcome to look, listen, learn and join in the program of talks, demonstrations, tastings, workshops, weaving circles, live music and dance performances kicking off from 9.45am on the Saturday and Sunday with a smoking ceremony.

Enjoy music by husband-and-wife duo Microwave Jenny and the renowned Stiff Gins, as well as dance performances by Mimah Dancers and Garuwa Cultural Immersion Dance Group. There will also be free communal weaving circles, sand-painting for the children and Torres Strait Islander dance workshops.

A new installation, “The Living Room”, will be dedicated to exhibiting First Nations’ designed furniture, textiles, fabrics and homewares which are available to purchase. Curated by Indigenous Australian actress Miah Madden, this special space celebrates the extension of Indigenous art from the gallery wall to the walls of our living room and wearable artwork of fashion.

This year there will be the opportunity to taste and learn about native bush foods and pre-book a hands-on workshop including an ochre painting class, to learn traditional painting techniques and history with Kunwinjku artists from Injalak Arts Centre from West Arnhem Land; a children’s workshop with Indigenous artist and storyteller Amanda Reynolds to craft their very own wearable possum armband; as well as a weaving workshop with Regina Wilson, a master fibre weaver from Durrmu Artsin Peppimenarti, using merrepen (sandpalm) which are hand-harvested and traditionally dyed. Make sure to book ahead here.


The gorgeous pop/folk/jazz duo Microwave Jenny will be performing on Saturday 29 June. Image: supplied.


Connecting culture


There is a certain buzz in the air leading up to such a vibrant and exciting event. Peter is hugely proud of the work of his organisation and team in connecting so many people over art and culture.

“Our mission as an organisation is to improve the lives of our people, and I think what we do really does hit the nail on the head there,” he says. “I still pinch myself because we’re a tiny little organisation but our reach and our impact goes right across Australia into some of the most remote places. It makes me proud of our organisation and my team that we’re able to provide those opportunities here in Sydney.”

In 2024, the event will run from Saturday 29 to Sunday 30 June, from 10am-4pm each day. Entry is $2.50, with all proceeds supporting remote Indigenous artists at the fair.

For more information, check out the National Indigenous Art Fair website.

To learn about the many amazing Indigenous experiences in Australia, click here.


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